Today is the day when the US will officially leave the Paris Agreement that was signed by Obama back in 2016. This is claimed to be a major setback for the Green movement in the US. But did any major polluters take up any significant steps in the past four years towards curbing their emissions?

To narrow the question, by "major polluters" I'm referring to individual countries that make up 50% of the worlds pollution when combined with the US: China, India, Russia, Japan and Germany. And a "significant step" would be a binding policy that has already taken effect, rather than a mere intent to do something in the distant future such as California's ban on internal combustion engines that will take place 15 years from now.

  • 2
    If 15 years is distant future, then what are you looking for? Climate change is an issue on scales up to 100-300 years, and you can hardly expect a country to ban internal combustion engines overnight.
    – gerrit
    Nov 5, 2020 at 21:54
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    @gerrit I'm looking for something specific that the US could've been expected to do by now if only it didn't leave the agreement. In other words, I'm trying to understand what exactly would've been the difference between our world and a parallel universe where Clinton won and didn't leave the agreement. Nov 5, 2020 at 21:55
  • Depending on your definition of "significant" that may be very broad that could include many policies in the mentioned countries. I could list some policies that Germany has implemented but the US hasn't. It's not enough according to science (regardless of politics), so arguably not significant enough, but maybe it's still significant?
    – gerrit
    Nov 5, 2020 at 22:15
  • Note that if California where its own country it would be a maor polluter, slightly smaller than Germany but not much. Banning interenal combustion engines (if it applies to all vehicles on the road and not just new ones) will also have a significant effect on the total CO2 emission of California.
    – quarague
    Nov 6, 2020 at 7:59
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    "Major polluters" should not be defined in terms of high total carbon emissions, but high per capita emissions. Calling India and China major polluters is like claiming that Africa has a bigger obesity problem than the US because of its population's combined bodymass is larger than the US'. Nov 6, 2020 at 10:31

1 Answer 1


A carbon tax will come into force in Germany from January 2021. It will initially be set at €25/tonne and increased to €55/tonne in 2025 (1 tonne = 1000 kg). Whether this is significant is a subjective question. Germany also made carbon targets legally binding in 2019, so that when it can be shown policies are insufficient to meet targets, courts can force the government to enact better policies.

India reportedly has a carbon tax of 400 Rs/tonne, or around €4.57.

By comparison, Sweden has had a carbon tax since 1991, which has been around €100 since 2007 and has reportedly contributed significantly to the elimination of fossil fuel domestic heating. The New York Times reports that the IPCC estimates that a carbon tax would have to range from $135 to $5,500 per ton of carbon dioxide pollution in 2030, and from $690 to $27,000 per ton by 2100. Compared to those numbers, green politicians have argued that the proposed German carbon tax is too low and will not help enough.

Have major polluters done something? Yes, at least Germany has. Its impact may be too small to meet the carbon targets by itself, but it can still be politically significant that a carbon tax is introduced at all.

  • Why the downvotes?
    – gerrit
    Nov 6, 2020 at 7:29

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